KO meeting with new First Nations SchoolNet managers - A Success!

The KO team at the AFN meeting in Ottawa led by Geordi Kakepetum shared success stories and challenged the new managers of First Nations SchoolNet to ensure that the program grows and prospers.

The Keewaytinook Okimakanak team took some time to meet with the new INAC managers of First Nations SchoolNet. KO’s Geordi Kakepetum and Brian Walmark shared the successes, hopes and challenges faced by K-Net, the Regional Management Organization (RMO) for Ontario. Geordi told those around the table about how First Nations SchoolNet, in particular the access to broadband and the applications, have changed the learning opportunities available for students in remote and isolated First Nations Schools.

First Nations SchoolNet is being transferred from Industry Canada to the Department of Indian Affairs as part of an overall restructuring initiative to make INAC responsible for all economic development on-reserve.

During the friendly and informal meeting, Geordi outlined to Juliet Balfour, the Director of Socio-Economic Policy and Regional Operations (Education Branch) and Barbara Caverhill, her Senior Policy Manager, several key challenges that require attention from the Department. He said to maintain the access and applications used by teachers and students in First Nations schools across Canada First Nations, it was essential that funding be restored to levels before recent cutbacks. "We can’t afford to provide the schools with the resources they need for upgrades in software and hardware," he told the INAC officials.

Geordi emphasized that it was critical that decision-makers at the community level must know that First Nations SchoolNet will continue after the end of the fiscal year. He feared that without an official announcement from Canada many First Nations Schools would have to advise the telecom providers that they could no longer afford broadband fees in the new fiscal year. "Many people are not aware that First Nations SchoolNet has been transferred to INAC or even know that the program will continue."

Juliet Balfour, INAC’s new First Nations SchoolNet Manager said it would be difficult to make an announcement until funding receives final approval. She said her department is seeking the authority to run First Nations SchoolNet for two years. During which time, INAC will go to Treasury Board to get the necessary authorities to transform it into a permanent program. She assured Geordi that she would determine what kind of announcement her department could make in the interim.

Geordi emphasized the importance of the Regional Management Orgnizations (RMOs) and how they were responsible for the rapid migration of broadband to almost every First Nation School in Canada that wanted it. "This is a big country. Each region is different. The RMOs know the challenges faced in their regions and they know the players. That’s why we can get things done." He added that there is a lot of sharing that takes place between the RMOs such as the video bootcamp created by the RMO in Atlantic Canada which was available on-line for First Nations participants across Canada.

Joe Poirier of IHAB had just returned from a tour of Ontario’s far north and reported what he had seen with the Keewaytinook Interent High School and G8, the grade supplementary on-line program in literacy, mathematics and science, two applications created by K-Net as part of First Nations SchoolNet. "Because of KiHS, young people in the north can get a high quality education without having to leave their families and go to high schools in the south." He said he could see how engaged KiHS students are in the classroom. Brian Walmark added that KiHS is currently being evaluated by a professor from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). "His preliminary findings sound very favourable," he said. Geordi pledged to provide the INAC officials a copy of the evaluation as soon as it was available.

Geordi invited the two INAC officials to come to Balmertown where they could see for themselves KiHS in action and some of the other applications created as a result of First Nations SchoolNet. Juliet Balfour and Barbara Caverhill said they would check their schedules to determine if they had any dates in January available for a visit.

Juliet said that she needs to have the successes of First Nations SchoolNet, the activity of the RMOs and K-Net in particular documented so that she can use them to lever the kinds of the funds the program needs to continue. The K-Net team recommended that INAC sponsor a face-to-face meeting in the new year of all of the RMOs where each could present its success stories. It would also provide the new INAC managers with the opportunity to meet all of the key players at the RMOs. In the interim, Juliet pledged to either participate or have members of her staff participate in the monthly on-line meetings of the RMOs.

Following the breakfast briefing, Brian Walmark provided Juliet Balfour and Barbara Caverhill with an on-line tour of the K-Net website. He showed them some of the digital video produced by community youth and some of the other applications made possible with funding from First Nations SchoolNet. "This program puts tools in the hands of people," he told them.

Juliet Balfour expressed great interest in what other areas beyond education could be served by broadband in First Nations communities such as health and economic development. The KO team told her about Jesse Fiddler who worked at K-Net for many years before taking his skills back with his family to Sandy Lake First Nation where he has created a thriving IT business serving clients on and off-reserve.

To see photos of the meeting between the KO team and First Nations School as well as other pictures taken at the AFN meeting in Ottawa, Click here ...